Virtual reality is the hottest topic in technology today. Things like the holodeck from Star Trek or the entire concept of The Matrix are on the cusp of reality. But it seems like the only thing you’ll hear about is recreational virtual reality devices like Google Glass, next generation gaming systems, or more tactile pursuits... like sex.
However, there are a slew of uses for virtual technology in every kind of workplace imaginable.
Below are the top five uses for virtual reality technology in today’s workplaces. You might have experienced a few of these already. While others might sound like they popped straight out of a comic book, these things could be as little as five years away from becoming everyday reality.
1. Attend Conferences From Anywhere
If you work in a high-octane, fast-paced industry like technology, medicine, or marketing, then you’re going to have to attend some conferences to stay competitive. However, these conferences can be many states away, and that’s if you’re lucky. It’s relatively common for people in the US to go to tech conferences as far away as in Japan and Europe.
While traveling is great, being forced to travel is financially costly for the company and psychologically strenuous for the representative. Virtual reality will completely eliminate the need to travel to these conferences as you could attend them from your desk or couch! There would also be no issue of running out of space or tickets since VR guests don’t take up any real "space".
2. Have Job Interviews in Cyberspace
Job interviews are simultaneously the best and worst part of a hiring manager’s job.
They’re the best because the hiring manager gets to break up the monotony of work and meet new talent, but the worst because interviews are annoying and time-consuming to schedule. In addition to that, every minute the interview takes is a minute that the hiring manager could have been doing something more immediately productive.
With virtual reality, the hiring manager would only need a scant few minutes to interview candidates, which means they could do the same amount of interviews in a third or less of the time it takes them now.
Now you’re probably asking "Doesn’t Skype already do that"? Well, not quite. While Skype does allow you to see the face of the person you speak to, it doesn’t give you the same holistic impression that would come with sitting in a room with them.
3. Give Virtual Tours and Demonstrations
What’s the best way for you to give a good impression of your company to an outsider? A guided tour, of course. But there’s no good way to do that without having them come to you in person. Well, you could use Skype by walking around with a webcam… but that’s obtuse at best and unprofessional at worst.
Even if you could use a Skype-like interface for a tour, what happens when you want your tour to be more hands-on? The main advantage of a complete virtual interface is that people can interact with objects in real time. It doesn’t matter whether or not the objects are digital projections for getting your point across. In fact, doctors are already able to digitally map out surgeries using virtual reality technology!
The real-estate market has the most to gain from virtual reality tours. The daunting task of buying a house in another state or country could be an easy, streamlined process if you could tour your home virtually with a realtor as it is being built.
Luckily for us, virtual reality tours are already here. It’s only going to be a few short years until virtual reality setups become cheap enough for every company to own.
4. Train New Employees Without the Expense of Mistakes
Employee training is a huge chunk of corporate budgets, regardless of the industry. Luckily, the amount of cash spent per trained employee has declined somewhat thanks to computerized training. A 2014 article from Forbes posited that "companies like GE, Motorola, Philips, and others are extending their training budget to reach 2-3 times the audience through the use of easy to use training portals and virtual learning experiences".
But if you’re someone who learns by doing, you know that all the text in the world isn’t going to help much when it comes right down to it.
These computerized learning experiences could be expanded further through the use of virtual reality tech to help people like us. Virtual reality training sessions would be a huge boon to industries like fast-food, primary and secondary education, repair work, and medicine, where even the smallest hands-on training exercises add up in cost due to wasted raw materials.
Virtual reality may never completely replace real hands-on "classroom" time, but virtual tech will greatly reduce the amount of time people need this time. The same article from Forbes later confirms this when it states that "people still need formal classroom education, but this is now less than half the total ‘hours’ people consume in training around the world".
5. Virtual Reality Tech Can Promote Physical and Mental Health in the Workplace
American companies lose billions of dollars each year due to employee absenteeism. In fact, a 2012 article from Forbes totals the monumental cost of bad health in the U.S at $576 billion a year. It goes on to say that a whopping 39 percent of that amount, “or $227 billion is from ‘lost productivity’ from employee absenteeism due to illness or what researchers called ‘presenteeism,’ when employees report to work but illness keeps them from performing at their best."
While many companies offer pregnant and ill employees the opportunity to work from home, the experience of working from a home computer adds a certain level of detachment from the work. In addition to that, working from home is impossible if you have a job that requires a more physical touch.
Now, virtual interfaces with physical drones can allow an at-home employee to have a real grasp (pun intended) on things happening in the workplace.
Repairmen and other high-risk professions can also benefit from virtual technology. Think about how many workplace incidents could be avoided if repairmen could use a virtual drone to go into the most dangerous parts of a building or if they could use virtual technology to plan out a repair job to get it done as quickly as possible.
Virtual reality technology isn’t quite perfect yet. Typical VR goggles can be quite heavy which makes your neck sore with extended use, and there can be bizarre glitches and feedback delays which can take you out of the experience.
But we are on the precipice of a never-before-seen technological revolution. Can you imagine what the work landscape will look like in 30 years? It’s only a matter of time before the majority of workers telecommute and large, sprawling offices become more of a novelty than a necessity. The money saved on things like overhead could go to benefiting the company or paying its employees higher wages. Even better, more of us would be able to realize our dreams of traveling since we won’t be anchored so tightly to the office.
Despite popular science fiction, virtual reality probably won’t be a complete substitute for human interaction (at least not in our lifetime); however, it will definitely become a formidable force in the workplace in the next few decades. I guarantee it!
Remember, today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s scientific fact.